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City officials meet with homeless service providers to develop plan

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

About two-dozen representatives from various Columbia agencies who serve the region's homeless told city officials what needed to be done to help people living on the streets.

A meeting Friday at the Earlewood Community Center provided officials with the city's purchasing department with information necessary to develop a request for bids for homeless services.

"We are looking for solutions," said Columbia Purchasing Agent Sandra Wright-Dix.

Homeless advocates were asked to answer 16 questions, ranging from "How do we register and triage those with mental health needs?" to "How do we address sex offenders?"

"We've got to figure out what's working, what's working best," said Mayor Steve Benjamin. "We have to have a real dialogue.  Everything will be taken seriously and incorporated in how we move forward."

"We want to bring humanity to the response to poverty," said Jeff Rainwater with the City.

Those who attended offered varying suggestions to city officials.  One man suggested taxing property owners who own large houses.

"We should assess a tax rate on the folks who have so much more than they need," he said. "Tax the rich folks more."

Another suggested downtown businesses start an "adopt a homeless person" program.  Changing the criminal justice system also was mentioned.

"We need to start having a service provider meeting," suggested Rev. Kerry Breen from Christ Central Ministries, who manages the city's winter shelter. "We're going to have to develop stronger relationships with each other.  The goal has to be to help the people and get away from 'what benefits my specific organization.'"

According to city officials at the meeting, Columbia dedicates about $1 million to homelessness annually.  Columbia is the only municipality in the state of South Carolina that operates a homeless shelter.

"For the city of Columbia to put the focus and the funding into help for the homeless, I think, is absolutely fantastic," said Breen. "And I think it speaks of the city administration.  I have nothing but great things to say about the city of Columbia in this regard."

Organizations have until February 7th to submit their suggestions or proposals to the Columbia Purchasing Division.  Officials will review the responses and develop specific programs and services which homeless advocacy organizations will be able to bid to provide.

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